Is the emergence of Jarrod Saltalamacchia at all a surprise to anyone? Were you expecting him to settle in so nicely?
Given the hype of his star from the day he was drafted you would have expected him to shine so brightly it would blind you. So for a lot of people, he has been a major disappointment. But to be fair, we all know it takes longer for catchers to develop.
When he was in Atlanta, Saltalamacchia was a golden child who was holding his own against Major League pitching as a 22-year old. Things looked really good for this catching prospect with a last name long enough to make Peter Sidorkiewicz proud (Hartford Whalers reference).
Then one day in 2007, the Braves, who were trailing the NY Mets by 4 games in the National League East decided they would deal away the farm to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixieria in hopes that they could catch New York. The trade for big Teixiera included a boat-load of talent and Saltalamacchia was the centerpiece of the deal. Moving from Atlanta to Arlington was Salty, Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Beau Jones. That’s a pretty lopsided deal considering Teixiera ended up in LA a short time later and now Feliz, Andrus and Harrison are vital parts of the reigning American League champions’ roster.
Any Braves fans out there want that one back?
It’s going to be really interesting to watch the maturation of Saltalamacchia in Boston. At some point, Jason Varitek is going to retire and the backstop duties will be handed over to Saltalamacchia. We all know he has a lot of work to do with calling games and throwing out runners, but overall I’d say he’s been pretty good and better than expected. He’s had some nice defensive plays and we haven’t seen any of the Mackey Sasser-type yips that pre-dated his arrival to Fenway Park.
Nor has he been plagued by injuries and ailments like he was in Texas. Challenges like leg infections and thoracic outlet syndrome have not been an issue for him in Boston.
Just look at the growth in 2011. This is the first time (according to Fangraphs) that Saltalamacchia was been a positive value both offensively (2.7) and defensively (3.0). His RAR is 21.4 and he’s a worth a solid 2.3 WAR. This from a 26-year old catcher who came in exchange for pitcher Roman Mendez and first baseman Chris McGuiness (who?)
Saltalamacchia is not going to win any batting titles but it’s very encouraging to see the power beginning to bloom. He is hitting a lot more flyballs this year (47%) and about 14% of them are leaving the yard. Those kinds of ratios can make you an easy 25-HR hitter.
The biggest fly in the ointment for Saltalamacchia offensively is his EYE. He does not take a lot of walks and strikes out about 32% of the time. That sticks you into the group of a .230 hitter. The nice thing about the consistent power is that it’s pushed his xBA to its highest point in his career. Saltalamacchia’s xBA has risen above .240 for the first time in his career. Not usually something worth pointing out–except when .217 was one’s high mark previously.
The Sox are lucky in that the point in which they began the development of Salty is far enough along that they can begin to shape him into the backstop and bridge to the future. This is all being done under the tutelage of Varitek and surrounded by great hitters and a great ballpark. Props to the front office on this one.
If Varitek finally closes the door on his storied career, I think we can all feel comfortable with the future of the mask and mitten in Boston.